The Importance of Fluency and Accuracy in Language Learning Essay
The Importance of Fluency and Accuracy in Language Learning
This work gratefully acknowledges the help of many individuals, who had contributed in doing this study. First, I would like to thank my module coordinator Mrs. Sanghvi for her effective feed back on my papers. Second, I would love to thank my family and especially my father Dr. Talib for his support of my work. Also thanks for every effort that has been made by my uncle Mr. Ghalib Al-Bir. Thanks to all members of the English department in Al-Rustaq Applied Sciences College, who answered the questionnaire.
This research is about the importance of fluency and accuracy in language learning; either as a second or a foreign language. It is found out that fluency is more important than accuracy. In other words, fluency represents the major section in language learning process, and it approximately covers all the important skills that lead to a successful communication. Survey findings show that majority of ELT teachers focus on fluency more than accuracy.
The following questions are going to be answered by the end of this study: What is fluency and accuracy? What enables proper communication? What is most focused on in the classroom by teachers, fluency or accuracy? Why it is necessary to focus on performance rather than competence? Does the degree of fluency and accuracy activities depend on the learners’ level?
This study faced some limitations and difficulties for several reasons. First, the number of words was limited; so many things were omitted like a special survey for learners themselves to find out more about this area. Also some of the questionnaire copies were not filled properly, so I had to return them and approach others respondents for the survey.
Chapter 1: Introduction:
Learning a language is a necessity to communicate well with others around the world. This report aims to discover what is more important to create proficiency and a good communication in language learning: is it fluency or accuracy? Most of the previous investigations and researches are suggesting that fluency is more important than accuracy, and it is the best tool of a good and a clear communication. I believe that fluency is the first thing that should be focused on and assessed. Undoubtedly, fluency is the only tool that people can exchange ideas and express thoughts with each other. In order to support my position a survey was carried out. This questionnaire was answered by a number of experts’ in language teaching. A sample of the survey will be provided at the end of this report attached with the appendix.
Chapter 2: Literature review:
This literature review will collaborate on the topic first with the most important definitions supported by examples, and discussed independently. To learn a language and perform well in this particular language there should be two factors. These factors according to Brown (2001) are fluency and accuracy, and they are governing the success in communicating with a good language. To put the focus on these factors they have to be defined. Fluency can be defined as the capability of reading, writing and speaking without any interruptions (Harmer, 1991). In other words, it is the speaker’s good performance and his/her ability to respond and understand this particular language while reading, writing or speaking. In addition, fluency is a group of skills, which throughout speakers can communicate orally and achieve comprehension from the real performance (Brown, 2001). In many language learning institutions, teachers give more emphasis to fluency than accuracy.
According to Brown (2001, p116) “At times fluency may have to take on more importance than accuracy in order to keep learners meaningfully engaged in language use”. Teachers assess the students on their fluency in many areas. For instance, they may assess them on the number of words they have, the number of pauses and repetitions in their speech and also the number of false starts at the beginning of each sentence (Ellis, 2003). On the other hand, accuracy may be defined as the ability to produce correct sentences using correct grammar and vocabulary (Harmer, 1991). The accurate learner is required to construct a clear and correct grammar whether it was written or spoken (Brown, 2001). Furthermore, accuracy indicates a lot of applications or activities, such as grammar exercises and gap-fill exercises in textbooks. Accuracy is given more importance by some traditional teachers rather than fluency.
As Harmer (1991) puts it, many traditional teachers would assess their students only for accuracy. In addition, teachers assess their students for their accuracy in several areas. For example, they would assess them on self-corrections, grammatical errors of verbs and articles and also on their use of appropriate vocabulary (Ellis, 2003). Previous researches and studies have observed that fluency is the most attractive area that motivates students to learn another language, and it is the main thing that leads to language proficiency. According to (Tracey, et al, 2008), Fluency improves more chances to learn a language either inside or outside the classroom. Also as Tracey (2008) has argued, Fluency is the most successful tool for the learner to communicate and speak in a particular language. Furthermore, fluency improves a better way of communication between the learner and his/her teacher (Wolf, 2008). It is also important to mention that fluency improves the oral thinking and helps to speak and deal with people and create a better understanding between each other (Wolf, 2008).
Therefore, fluency is the best instrument that somebody could acquire from language learning. On the other hand, less emphasis may be given to accuracy in the early levels of language learning. As Ellis (2003) puts it, language learning today aims generally for fluency and less for accuracy in the early stages. Accuracy in language helps if the teacher gives some grammar or written vocabulary tasks in the classroom, but it will not help if someone asks an open oral question to the students (Sasson, 2007). Sasson (2007) believes that if teachers keep concentrating on accuracy rather than fluency, learners will not be able even to ask for a cup of tea in a coffee shop. The importance of accuracy comes beside fluency to enable learners to apply all the skills that support language learning.
An attempt has been made to choose a group of people to answer a sample of a survey that covers almost the whole topic. This questionnaire has four questions, and the first question requires some personal information. The second one holds nine of the yes/no and multiple-choice questions, while the third one is an agreement and disagreement rate scale. The forth question is to evaluate the importance of fluency and accuracy in different groups of language learning levels.
These questions were made to attract the respondents’ attention, and to share their real experience about this topic. Twenty copies of this survey were distributed among twenty males and females between 25-60 years old from the College of Applied Sciences in Al-Rustaq region in Oman. Most of the participants are teachers in the English Language Department, and they are from different countries. In addition, they are holders of Masters and Doctorate in different areas of English language and linguistics. However, a few of them are working as trainers, supervisors and courses coordinators. Below is a presentation of the most significant results that have been collected by this survey.
This section presents each of the questions that are conducted in the survey separately. Every group of a similar type of questions is illustrated either with a chart or with a table, and the data interpretation will be provided underneath it. The chart below shows the results from the multi choice questions, which are indicated with the second section of the questionnaire:
1) Fluency is___________________________ accuracy in language learning?
a. more important than
b. as important as
c. less important than
2) Which of the following areas would you give more weight to in teaching foreign languages? a. speaking b. vocabulary c. grammar d. writing 4) Fluency covers about ______________of all language requirements? a. 25% b. 50% c. 75% d.100%
5) Which of these areas do you concentrate on in class?
a. Teaching Grammar
b. Vocabulary Assessment
It is obvious that the first question (Q1) has observed that an equal number of teachers had chosen (a) and (b). That is nine of them said that fluency is more important than accuracy, whereas the other nine have stated that both carries an equal importance. On The other hand, only two stated that fluency is less important than accuracy. The second question (Q2) shows that the majority, who are sixteen, had chosen (a), which is speaking, as the activity that they would give more weight in teaching a language. Three teachers had chosen (d), which is writing, while only one teacher selected (b), which is vocabulary as the most important area. No one had chosen grammar (c) as an important area.
In addition, question four (Q4) on sequence as a multi choice question investigates that fluency covers more than 50% of language requirements, because most of the participants have selected (c), which represents 75%. It should also be noted that fourteen teachers have selected performance (d) in (Q5) as the most area they concentrate on in the classroom, and four of them have selected (c), which is content, over (a) and (b), which stand as teaching grammar and vocabulary assessment. The key point to note is that most teachers give more emphasis to fluency over accuracy, because their answers showed that they support writing, speaking and the real performance, over accuracy, i. e. spelling activities and grammar tasks.
3) Do current teachers give more weight in general on vocabulary and grammar exercises rather than on speaking fluently? Yes( No( 6) Do you think it is a necessity to speak hundred percent grammatically correct? Yes( No( 7) Can teachers’ corrections of the students’ accuracy be demotivating? Yes( No( 8) Are accurate students better than fluent students in their academic achievements? Yes( No( 9) Does the level of students determine the amount of activities to be given on fluency and accuracy? Yes( No(
The chart above presents the findings from the (yes) and (no) questions of section two of the survey. Eleven teachers answered with (no) on (Q3), because they support speaking fluently than giving gap-fill exercises, while only nine have answered with (yes), because they prefer vocabulary and grammar exercises. Moreover, all of them answered with (no) on the sixth question, because nobody can speak without grammatical errors. Question seven shows that 75% of participants agree that accuracy corrections can be demotivated to language learners, whereas 25% of them disagree.
Next, question number eight had observed that accurate learners are not better than fluent learners academically, because eleven teachers had answered (no), while the other nine said (yes), i. e accurate learners are better academically. Lastly, 95% of teachers in (Q9) said that the amount of activities of fluency and accuracy depends on the learners’ level, while 5% of them refused this idea. Again, (yes) and (no) questions have proved that fluency is more important than accuracy, but still depends on the learner level. To give more support to this argument, the tables below are demonstrating the results from section 3 and 4 of the questionnaire:
These nine statements are adapted from (Sasson, 2007). All the respondents had agreed and strongly agreed on statement one, so it is indeed gives emphasis to fluency. There is no denying that fluency is given support in statement number two. That is thirteenth of the teachers have agreed and three have strongly agreed, whereas only four have disagreed. Fluency helps to make the learners expressing themselves, so statement three supports this and all the teachers had approved that by agree and strongly agree.
However, statement four, clarifies that the majority had disagreed that accuracy is less important than fluency, while the minority, who were four had agreed with the statement. In statement five, 17 of the teachers refused exposing learners to grammar rather than practicing speaking. On the other side, only 4 of them had supported this idea. Nevertheless, more than 15 teachers have sustained the sixth statement, but 4 of them disagreed with it. Also all of them had agreed and strongly agreed in statement seven, that accuracy matters in texts books and written exams.
Statement eight suggests that new learners should not worry about accuracy at their intermediate level, but about 13 of the participants refused this idea and only 7 of them had supported it. However, 14 teachers had approved statement 9, because both concepts depend on the learner stage, while 6 of them did not accept this statement. Again, this section had put fluency in lead with some emphasis on accuracy in some cases, unless the table below supports statement nine.
More detailed study in section four of the survey had shown that the focus of fluency and accuracy given to the learners depends on their level. As table 2 presents the results, almost the majority of teachers have given more emphasis to fluency in the beginners, intermediate and advanced levels of language learners. In other words, more than 18 of them have given an average and high focus on fluency to the three levels. On the other hand, they give emphasis to accuracy only to the intermediate and advanced levels. That is about 18 of them gave an average and high focus to accuracy in intermediate levels, while only two gave low focus. Also all the teachers have given more focus on accuracy in the advanced levels.
In short, this research has arrived at a combination of figures that demonstrate the distinction of fluency over accuracy. First, fluency is a tool of communication, and the main purpose of learning a language is to be able to deliver your ideas to others. Second, accuracy is the tool of competence and matters only in exercises, exams and grammar/vocabulary activities, whereas fluency is the real performance of the competence and it enables learners to speak and express their needs. Finally, the focus of both concepts depends of the stage of learning whether it was intermediate or advanced, but more focus is given to fluency in all levels, while on accuracy in more advanced levels. To sum up, language learning process is just like the coin that holds fluency as its heads and accuracy as its tails.
• Brown, D (2001). TEACHING by PRINCIPLES: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. London: Longman.
• Ellis, R (2003a). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Ellis, R (December, 2003b). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. TESL-EJ Journal, Vol. 7. No. 3, 386-387. Retrieved from:
• Harmer, J (1991). THE PRACTICE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING. Harlow: Longman.
• Hinkel, E (2005). Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Lawrence Erlbaum: Routledge.
• Sasson, D. (May, 2007). The Debate of Accuracy vs. Fluency in ESL Learning: Tips and Suggestions for Motivating ESL Students to Achieve a Higher Communicative Competency. Retrieved from: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/234822/the_debate_of_accuracy_vs_fluency_in.html?cat=4
• Tracey, M. D., Munro, M. J. & Thomson, R. I. (September, 2008). A Longitudinal Study of ESL Learners Fluency and Comprehensibility Development. Applied Linguistics, Vol. 29. No. 3, ISSN, 0142-6001, 359-380. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Wolf, J. P. (June, 2008). The effects of backchannels on fluency in L2 oral task production. An International Journal of Education Technology and Applied Linguistics, Vol. 36. No. 2, ISSN, 0346-251x, 279-292. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 November 2016
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